You have spent over thirty years diligently treating your patients, and retirement has finally arrived. The RV or boat is gassed up, the grandkids can’t wait to have a new pal, and you are set to finally shave five strokes off your golf game. However, despite your long, successful, and untarnished career, you receive a last letter from the Florida Department of Health informing you that when you closed your medical practice you failed to follow the proper procedures under Florida law. Can the Florida Department of Health really fine me, after I have retired, for failing to publish a newspaper article announcing my retirement? The counterintuitive answer is “yes”.
As a recent public record Administrative Complaint shows (view here), the Florida Department of Health may prosecute a physician for failure to perform “any statutory or legal obligation placed upon a licensed physician”, including certain legal requirements in the event a physician closes, sells, or relocates his or her medical practice. Under Florida law, when a licensed physician terminates practice, or relocates and is no longer available to patients, the physician must publicly announce that event by publishing an announcement once during each week for four consecutive weeks, in the newspaper of greatest general circulation in each county in which the physician practices or practiced and in a local newspaper that serves the immediate practice area. The newspaper notice must include the date of termination, sale or relocation and an address where your patients can obtain a copy of their medical records. Also, a copy of the notice must be mailed to the Florida Board of Medicine within one month from the date of relocation or termination of the medical practice. Although not technically required by Florida law, we also recommend that physicians individually give patients an equivalent notice by letter. Whether you’re a sole practitioner, partner with a few other specialists, or a member of a large multi-specialty group, Florida law imposes all of these requirements.
Additionally, physicians contemplating any of these moves towards retirement must also consider patient record retention. Most physicians will have record retention requirements stemming from their malpractice insurance policy, managed care contracts, and Medicare’s conditions of participation so records storage options, which properly comport with state and federal privacy regulations will have to be considered. Alternatively, the sale of a practice necessitates execution of a proper medical record transfer agreement as part of the transaction. Also, a physician planning to close, sell or relocate a medical practice must consider how to effectively notify employees about the termination and must properly maintain employee records and other medical billing records after the practice has closed its doors.
Beyond notifying the Florida Board of Medicine, physicians may also be required to notify other licensing authorities such as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the Florida Department of Health, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, and other local business licensing authorities. To be sure, closing, selling, or relocating a medical practice requires careful planning and preparation in order to stave off unwanted fines or disciplinary action by the Florida Department of Health. Don’t let Florida’s healthcare laws dampen the joy of going out on top!